Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what the attributes of God are and their importance to the Christian faith.
- Dave opened our series by looking at what the communicable attributes of God are.
- Dave answered the question, “What are the incommunicable attributes of God?“
- Rick Hanna wrote on the goodness of God.
- Today Mike Boling writes on the love of God.
The love of God is the attribute of God people arguably are most familiar with. We are familiar with many passages of Scripture that speak of God loving a cheerful giver or the often quoted John 3:16. With that said do we truly grasp all the facets of God’s love? Do we appreciate that God’s love includes elements such as discipline and correction or that God is a jealous God? Furthermore, do we fully understand that as a people who are called to be holy as God is holy, how the attributes of God’s love are to be reflected in our own lives?
A.W. Pink once noted:
“There are many today who talk about the love of God, who are total strangers to the God of love. The Divine love is commonly regarded as a species of amiable weakness, a sort of good-natured indulgence; it is reduced to a mere sickly sentiment, patterned after human emotion. Now the truth is that on this, as on everything else, our thoughts need to be formed and regulated by what is revealed thereon in Holy Scripture. That there is urgent need for this is apparent not only from the ignorance which so generally prevails, but also from the low state of spirituality which is now so sadly evident everywhere among professing Christians. How little real love there is for God. One chief reason for this is because our hearts are so little occupied with His wondrous love for His people. The better we are acquainted with His love—its character, fullness, blessedness—the more will our hearts be drawn out in love to Him.”
When we talk about the love of God, it is, first of all, important to note the relational aspect of this attribute. Love implies interaction with someone or something. If I said that I love reading, I am making a statement that I love the activity of reading and the feel of a book in my hand. If I say that I love my wife, I am declaring that I have emotional feelings, a bond, and a deep relationship with her, one that surpasses the friendship level of relationship I have with others.
Since God is perfect, the love He expresses towards us is perfect. There is no hint of malice, manipulation, deviancy, or any other twisted aspect of love we so often observe with humanity. When we read John 3:16 with its declaration that God so loved the world that He gave His only son so that whoever believes in Jesus might have eternal life, the love shown by God is the absolute perfect expression of what love looks like. Thomas Manton aptly comments, “If you ask why He made so much ado about a worthless creature, raised out of the dust of the ground at first, had now disordered himself, and could be of no use to Him, we have an answer at hand: because He loved us.” This perfect love demonstrated towards sinners is a beautiful example of the extent God loves us and desires to restore us to a relationship with Himself through the shed blood of Jesus.
Also contained within God’s perfect love is the reality that God’s chastens those whom He loves. Hebrews 12:5-7 reminds us, “you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?”
As sons and daughters of God, we should both expect and embrace the discipline God give us. This element of God’s love is intended to help us grow in relationship with our heavenly Father. Revelation 3:19 states, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” Furthermore, all throughout the book of Proverbs we find verse after verse speaking of a father disciplining and correcting their children, not out of hate or anger, but out of love. To reject correction from God is to walk in the way of foolishness and wickedness. Conversely, those who embrace God’s correction are noted as being wise and righteous for they understand God’s loving embrace often involves the guiding rod and staff wielded by our Great Shepherd.
One final aspect of God’s attribute of love I would like to address is the fact that He is a jealous God. In Exodus 34:14 we find the command, “worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” John Frame saliently notes, “Jealousy (Heb. Qanna’, Gk. Zelos) is a passionate zeal to guard the exclusiveness of a marriage relationship, leading to anger against an unfaithful spouse…God’s jealousy is not inconsistent with his love or goodness. On the contrary, his jealousy is part of his love.”
The people of God are in a marriage relationship with God. In fact, Jesus is the bridegroom and the people of God are His bride. When God commands that we are to worship no other god, He is declaring that we are to have no other husband than God. It is no wonder then the repeated calls to faithfulness found throughout Scripture. God is jealous for His people with a holy love, one that in turn requires from our part a commitment to this covenant marriage contract paid for by the blood of Jesus. The terms of the marriage contract are outlined in Scripture. God, in His love for us, has told to us how we are to love Him. If we love Him, we will keep the terms of the marriage contract found in Scripture, thus the statement found in John 14:15 – “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The call by God for His people to be faithful is rooted in His perfect love for us.
This discussion is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to God’s attribute of love. I trust this short engagement of God’s attribute of love will help you understand God’s love for you, the extent of His love, and the overlooked aspects such as God’s discipline and jealousy.
I conclude with a wonderful quote from Thomas Goodwin:
“My brethren, when God first began to love you, he gave you all that he ever meant to give you in the lump, and eternity of time is that in which he is retailing of it out.”
 John Frame, Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishers, 2013), 268-269.